René Cuenca graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in Environmental Policy and Architecture. René was active on CMU’s campus as a co-leader with CMU Eco-Reps which lead and implemented sustainable initiatives on-campus, and in Pittsburgh working on the first-of-it’s-kind Vacant Home Tour in Wilkinsburg. René has worked with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and The Sierra Club’s Legislative Office in Washington D.C. He enjoys exploring new places, a joy fostered by growing up in El Salvador then Miami, moving to Pittsburgh, and studying for a semester in Denmark. In PULSE, René is growing in his community organizing skills, developing long-lasting connections, and becoming more involved in Pittsburgh. He is serving in a joint position at The Buhl Foundation and the Design Center.
Simon Doong: What do you enjoy most about your nonprofit partnership?
Rene Cuenca: I like that my nonprofit partnership as an affordable housing fellow is a special position between the Buhl Foundation and the Design Center because it has allowed me to expand the scope in which I can understand different social and urban issues. In particular, I enjoy that I am able to have an opportunity to be involved in a variety of tasks, from researching new models at the office to interacting with key community stakeholders, or creating useful survey tools that can inform community development. These close relationships with supervisors, co-workers, and community members and the friendly office environment help me feel connected to my work and the communities that we serve.
Simon: Describe a typical day at your nonprofit partnership.
Rene: It shouldn’t come to a surprise to anyone that every day is different… but one thing is constant: they always start with a morning cup of coffee. In the morning I tend to bring myself up to speed to what needs to be done by reading articles, reviewing data, checking emails and events, and sorting through all of the doodles in my notebook. Lately, I have been grateful that I am heading some key projects that include data collection and data analysis, community knowledge sessions, and affordable housing policy. In other words, as a rule of thumb, I spend most of my time asking lots of meaningful questions in the morning and trying to find their meaningful answers in the afternoon.
Simon: What have you enjoyed the most about living in community?
Rene: In the community of PULSE fellows, we have come to a point where you can be who you are and express yourself freely, which is refreshing. Each of us is different but we can all share the same experience and complement each other where we fall short because we all have shared core values. The feeling of belonging and mutual support is surprisingly hard to find but I have liked it the most because it is a lifestyle based on ideals. All of the other fellows have so many meaningful things to say and true souls to share!
Simon: What do you love about Pittsburgh?
Rene: I love the progressive and creative energy that exists in the city but I love most the pride of residents in each of their neighborhoods. It is a city in transition! Every time I go to work, I cross one of Pittsburgh’s infamous bridges and fall in love with the view time and time again. Though the city still has a long way to go in addressing more inclusive and socially just safe spaces, the conversations surrounding social justice, community revitalization, and livable neighborhoods are being led by some of the most inspiring people I have met.
Simon: What is your favorite “family meal” recipe for the house?
Rene: For me, it’s not about the “recipe”, but about the meal. In my house we have been very open and flexible with what we cook. My favorite meals have been the ones that introduce new foods that other people in the house have not tried and finding out whether they like it or not, or laughing over what leftover ingredients we are going to throw in together to make a dish; or simply eating around the table sharing stories with my housemates.
Story by PULSE Participant Simon Doong.
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